Fed Cup debutant Ajla Tomljanovic is bracing for the biggest match of her career when she launches Australia’s finals campaign against France in Perth.
Tomljanovic will open Saturday’s proceedings against French No.1 Kristina Mladenovic after being selected ahead of Samantha Stosur to back up world No.1 Ashleigh Barty in the singles.
Barty and Stosur will contest the doubles at RAC Arena.
Mladenovic and Caroline Garcia will play both the singles and doubles for France in the best-of-five rubbers format.
Just weeks after becoming eligible to represent Australia, Tomljanovic will play a leading role in the hosts’ bid to claim their first Fed Cup title in 45 years.
“Saturday’s going to be probably the highlight of my year and my career so far,” she said.
“I think the most confidence I draw from this week is my teammates. They’ve been here for me this whole week in practice.
“Everyone’s been really encouraging so I’m definitely drawing from that the most.”
Croatia-born Tomljanovic is no stranger to her French opponent – the pair rose through the ranks together and their fathers played each other in professional handball.
“We’re the same age and we grew up together playing the same tournaments, so I think there will be no secrets tomorrow,” Tomljanovic said.
“We know each other’s games really well.”
While Tomljanovic is Australia’s second-highest ranked female, her selection is still something of a gamble given Stosur boasts the most singles wins for Australia in Fed Cup history.
The Australian has a 2-0 career record against her higher-ranked opponent.
“We practice often together and we know each other really well,” Mladenovic said.
“She’s a great player. It’s going to be a tough and exciting match.”
Spearheaded by French Open champion Barty, Australia will start warm favourites to claim a drought-breaking victory.
But Mladenovic and Garcia are formidable opponents, meaning there is every chance the contest will go down to a doubles showdown on Sunday.
Mladenovic had a close look at Barty at last week’s season-ending WTA Finals in Shenzhen, China, where the top seed won the singles and the Frenchwoman partnered with Hungary’s Timea Babos to take the doubles.
Barty will launch her campaign on Saturday against former world No.4 Garcia.
“Caro’s a great friend of mine and I know that we both play our best tennis during Fed Cup week so I think tomorrow’s match is going to be of a really high quality,” Barty said.
“I’m certainly going to have to bring my best to make sure that I can match it with her.”
FED CUP FINAL ORDER OF PLAY
Tomljanovic (AUS) v Mladenovic (FRA)
Barty (AUS) v Garcia (FRA)
Barty v Mladenovic
Tomljanovic v Garcia
Barty/Stosur v Garcia/Mladenovic.